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Raised Bed Gardening 101

This year is the year! You're going to start a garden. Great! The easiest way to get started with backyard gardening is by starting with raised beds. Not only do raised garden beds offer a range of benefits over traditional in-ground gardening, but they also add a touch of charm to your outdoor space. With raised garden beds, you have greater control over soil quality and drainage, which means you can grow healthier plants that produce bigger and better yields. Plus, raised garden beds are more accessible and easier to maintain, which makes gardening a breeze for gardeners of all ages and abilities. Whether you're looking to grow a vegetable garden or armloads of cut flowers, raised garden beds provide the ideal setting for your garden to thrive. So, get ready to roll up your sleeves and dig in - we'll show you everything you need to know to create your own raised garden beds and grow a stunning garden that you'll be proud to call your own.

Benefits of Raised Garden Beds

There are many benefits to using raised garden beds over a traditional in-ground garden, with the the two main advantages being improved drainage and soil quality. When it comes to drainage, raised garden beds easily allow excess water to drain away from the soil. This is particularly important in areas with heavy or clay soils, (we're looking at you Northeast, Ohio!) which can be prone to waterlogging and can lead to root rot and other issues. By providing better drainage, raised garden beds help ensure that the soil stays aerated and healthy, which can result in stronger and healthier plants.

In addition to better drainage, raised garden beds also allow you to control the quality of the soil. This is especially important if you have poor quality soil in your backyard, which may lack nutrients or suffer from compaction issues. With a raised garden bed, you can fill the bed with a high-quality soil mix that is rich in organic matter and nutrients, ensuring that your plants have access to the ideal growing conditions. You can also amend the soil as needed, adding additional organic matter or nutrients to promote plant growth and health. By providing better drainage and improved soil quality, raised beds can help your plants grow strong and healthy, and can offer a beautiful and functional addition to your backyard.

Getting Started - Choosing a location

When it comes to creating a thriving garden, choosing the right location is absolutely crucial. You want to find a spot that gets at least 8 hours of sunlight per day, since most vegetables and flowers need a lot of sunshine in order to grow and thrive. It's also important to think about which direction your garden will face. Ideally, you'll want a south-facing garden, since it will get the most sunlight throughout the day. But don't worry if that's not possible - an east-facing garden can still work well, since it'll get morning sun which can be great for some plants. Another thing to keep in mind is drainage. You don't want to choose an area that's prone to flooding or sitting water, since that can lead to all sorts of issues like root rot.

And finally, think about convenience - choose a spot that's easy to get to from your house and not in a high-traffic area where it could get damaged. This is an easy point to overlook but you'd be amazed by how much more motivated you are to tend and harvest from a garden that is just outside your back door vs one that's at the back of your yard.

Building Raised Garden Beds

Building a raised garden bed is a fairly easy project for a beginner DIYer. With a few basic tools and an afternoon of work, you'll be gardening in no time. We've built raised beds in several different shapes and sizes, with several different types of lumber. Ultimately, we've found that a 4x8 bed built from cedar is our favorite method. Cedar is an excellent material for raised garden beds because it is naturally resistant to rot and insects, and it also looks beautiful. A 4x8 bed provides easy access to the center of the bed from each side, making planting, maintenance, and harvesting a breeze.

The 4 basic steps -

  • Measure and mark

Once you've picked the perfect location, measure and mark the area for your garden bed. It's important to make sure the area is level, so use a level to check for any high or low spots.

  • Assemble your beds

Once you've marked your location, assemble your beds according to your bed plans. Our simple 4x8 beds are made from 2x4x8 cedar boards. There are plenty of plans available online, particularly on Youtube, that can include cost saving methods like smaller frames or more inexpensive materials. Products like these ready-made corner braces can also speed up the process and make assembly a breeze. Choose a plan that fits your budget as well as your available space.

  • Add soil

If you're placing the bed on existing grass, it's best lay down heavy craft paper or cardboard before filling your bed. This will help terminate existing plants. Avoid using weed barrier. It will prevent your plants' roots from reaching into your native soil.

Fill the garden bed with a high-quality soil mix that is appropriate for the plants you'll be growing. Many soil companies sell a bagged raised bed mix or "garden soil". We also mix in bagged mushroom compost to improve soil quality.

If you're filling multiple beds, it is typically more cost effective to order a bulk delivery from a local landscape supplier. There a several good soil calculators online to help you determine how much soil you'll need to fill your bed. A typical 4x8 raised bed will hold just over half a cubic yard of soil. The depth of the soil should be at least 6 inches but can be deeper for plants with deeper root systems.

  • Finish

Once the garden bed is filled with soil, add nutrient amendments (we like Espoma Garden-tone), rake the surface smooth and you're ready to start planting!

Planting Your Raised Beds

When it comes to planting a raised bed, one important decision to make is whether to start the plants from seeds or to buy starts to transplant. Starting plants from seeds can be a rewarding experience. It requires more time and effort than buying starts but allows you to grow plants from good quality seed and offers a wider range of option than a retailer.

If you haven't started seeds this season, buying good quality starts from a farmer or local garden center can save you time and effort. When selecting plants from a store, look for those that are sturdy with dark green leaves and a strong stem. Avoid those with yellowing or wilting leaves and check the underside of leaves for any pests.

Once you have your plants, it's important to space them properly in your raised bed to give them enough room to grow and access to the nutrients they need. Here are some spacing recommendations for common crops:

  • Peppers: 12-18 inches apart

  • Tomatoes: 18-24 inches apart

  • Cucumbers: 18-36 inches apart

  • Beans: 2-4 inches apart for bush beans, or 4-6 inches apart for pole beans

  • Zucchini: 24-36 inches apart

Dig a hole wider than the root ball of the plant and place the plant inside, filling the hole in with soil and firming it around the plant's roots. We also like to add a general fertilizer to each planting hole, per the instructions on the bag. Some plants, like tomatoes, like to have their stems buried while others, like lettuce, need to stay just above the soil line. Use a search engine to determine the planting depth for your specific plants, if you're unsure. Water in your new plants immediately after planting. Water deeply and evenly to ensure that the roots are getting enough moisture, but avoid overwatering, which can lead to root rot.

Common Questions

Does my garden need a fence?

The question of a fence isn't exactly straightforward. Deciding on whether to build a fence means carefully considering the common dangers to your garden. Fences do help deter pests like skunks and rabbits as well as household hazards like pets and small children. But fences won't do much to keep out the worst of the garden pests. Voles, squirrels and deer tend to find their way into a garden if a simple garden fence is the only defense. In order to protect against this list of pests, fences need to be buried over a foot into the ground and ascend at least 6 ft high. In suburban areas, furry pests tend to be less of a concern and plenty of backyard gardeners grow successful gardens without any protection at all.

Can I fill my beds using the "lasagna" or "hugelkultur" methods?

If you're looking to save money on soil and amendments, there are several methods of filling a raised bed that involve layering organic materials such as logs, sticks, leaves, and cardboard. These methods certainly serve their purpose as money savers and have a few other benefits as well. They help add organic matter to your soil and can save time on filling. It is important to note, however, that materials like logs or large sticks can take several seasons to break down completely. Be sure to add enough soil to the top to encourage deep plant roots.

If I'm adding compost, do I need to use fertilizer?

The best way to determine how to amend your soil is with a soil test. Many garden centers sell soil testing kits that test nutrient availability and PH. If you'd like even more accuracy, you can send your soil sample off to a lab for testing. Most home gardeners skip this step, opting to use a generally balanced soil amendment like Espoma Garden-tone or a bagged compost. When starting a brand new garden, we like to add both.

It's time to get started!

Sometimes the hardest part of starting a new garden is simply getting started. But don't let that discourage you! With a little bit of research, planning, and effort, you can create a thriving garden full of healthy and happy plants. Remember to start small, choose plants that are suited to your climate and soil conditions, and don't be afraid to ask for help or advice from other gardeners. Just remember, there are no failures in gardening, only new opportunities to learn! With a little bit of patience and persistence, you'll soon be enjoying satisfaction of growing your own food and flowers in no time. Happy growing!


owner & farm manager, Fifth Acre Farms

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